Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nassarawa Massacre: When Police met its waterloo at Alakyo

This is not the best of time for Nigerian police, the security community and Nigerian government as a whole. In the last few years, the Force has lost hundreds of its officers and men to attacks by insurgents in the South-South and North East Nigeria. In the recent past, precisely on March 2, 2013, Kwara State Commissioner of Police Mr. Chinwike Asadu was assassinated in Enugu. On April 5 at Azuzuama community, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, the Force lost 11 of its men in one fell swoop. They were reportedly heading to that community to provide security at the burial of the late mother of an ex -militant leader, Kile Selky Torughedi, aka Young Shall Grow, and Senior Special Assistant on Marine Waterways Security to the Bayelsa Governor, when their boat was ambushed.

It was bloodbath for men and officers of Nigerian police on Tuesday, May 7 when 22 of them were among the 55 killed in early morning raid in Bama town in Borno State. Others who lost their lives were   14 prison officials, two soldiers and four civilians. The deadliest attack on Nigerian police in recent times took place same Tuesday, May 7 when dozens of their agents were massacred in a town called Alakyo in Nassarawa State. They were ambushed by the Ombatse cult group while on a mission to arrest the cult’s leader known as Baba Alakyo. The allegation against the cult members who has been outlawed by the Nassarawa State government was that they were torturing and forcing people in churches and mosques to swear to an oath of allegiance to the Ombatse deity.  Ombatse in the Eggon language means “the time has come”. Members of the militia, in their defence said they are only fighting against social vices such as alcohol and adultery. A source however told a newspaper that: “The countdown to 2015 might have aggravated the clash with the militia. They are demanding that power should shift to Nasarawa Eggon in 2015 following fears that Al-Makura may want to seek re-election.” (See The Nation of Friday, May 10, 2013.)

Different account put the death toll at between 88 and 121. Leader of the ill-fated operation Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Momoh Mohammed was also allegedly killed during the attack. While Daily Trust of Friday, May 10 put the figure at 88, Daily Sun quoting a reliable source put the figure at 121. According to Daily Trust, “Officials at the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia said they received bodies of 88 security men who were killed in the attack. However; Daily Sun said a source told its reporter “that about 100 policemen, 10 Department of State Security operatives, and 20 soldiers may have been killed during the massacre.” A man who claimed to be member of the Ombatse sect said they killed a total of 90 policemen “in self defence” during the Tuesday evening incident. He was quoted as having so claimed while speaking on a BBC Hausa interview on Thursday, May 9. But state police Commissioner Abayomi Akeremale said the number of security agents confirmed dead was 47. Not only were these gallant officers and men murdered in cold blood, their corpses were also set on fire while nine of their vans were also burnt.

 It is not surprising that figures from the media and police authorities do not tally. That has been the ugly tradition. The official figures have always been low even if eye witness account says otherwise. Remember, that was how the figures of the April 20 Baga killings were disputed. While media reports claimed that between 185 and 228 people, mostly civilians, died in the clash, apart from an unspecified number of those injured, the military authorities dismissed the figures as highly exaggerated. The Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force that carried out the Baga operation, Brig.-Gen. Austin Edokpaye, claimed that 30 members of the Boko Haram terrorist group were killed, while five arrests were made. A statement by the Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said consequent upon the attacks, “the IGP has directed all Field Commanders and Special Units including Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and Commissioners of Police to harness all resources available within their domain in ensuring that this reign of terror and lawlessness is brought to an end“.

There are several lessons to be drawn from these ceaseless attacks on police officers and men. It clearly shows that the terrorists are gaining upper hand in their heinous crimes than the security authorities are wont to admit. Our security agencies are simply overwhelmed, ill-equipped and poorly trained to meet the challenges of modern policing. The Alakyo saga leaves a sour taste in the mouth as one would have expected a proper reconnaissance mission rather than the old fashioned show of force.  A prior intelligence gathering on the activities of the sect would have revealed their strength and weaknesses. The security operatives would have known what kind of equipment to take with them, the topography of the area, whether their men need to be in mufti or wear uniform, whether to wear bullet proof vests, etc. For instance, one out of the ten survivors was alleged to have said to Leadership newspaper that “The road is narrow and they allowed us into their midst before opening fire on us at close range.  Efforts to return fire and scare them into hiding ware futile as bullets were not penetrating them.” The chief priest of the sect is also alleged to possess some mystical powers which make him to appear and disappear at will. All these should have been taken into account by the security agents on that mission. They were not going to fight ordinary people but persons with some metaphysical powers. Obviously, security agents on that mission underrated their opponents.

I wonder why the policemen on that mission went with Hilux vans when they should have gone with Armoured Personnel Carriers and Helicopters. I am also amazed that they went to carry out the operation following only one route instead of using several entry points. It would seem those on the assignment didn’t factor in the element of ambush. The fact that the policemen decided to drive into the village also took away the element of surprise which in itself is very key in strategic studies. This, in addition to the fact that some fifth columnists in the Force possibly have alerted the sect members of the impeding raid on their shrine, did the policemen in. (I learnt two of the saboteurs have been caught). All said, it boils down to lack of or insufficient planning and resources for the operation. Unfortunately, innocent souls were needlessly lost.  My condolence to the families of the departed.

It has been said over and over again that intelligence gathering is a prerequisite to modern day policing and warfare. Unfortunately, in spite of nearly a trillion Naira budgeted for the Defence and Police Ministries in 2012 and 2013 budget respectively, the impact of this  huge resources are yet to be felt by the security agencies. It would then seem the resources are being pilfered or misapplied. Just few months ago, the rot in Nigerian Police training college in Ikeja, Lagos was revealed by Channels Television; sadly, not much has been done to improve the police training institutes across the country. Both the environment and the course contents have to be fine-tuned to be at par with contemporary challenges of policing. I commend President Jonathan for cutting short his official trip to South Africa and cancelling his trip to Namibia in order to attend to the security situation at home, however, he needs to do better than issuing press releases and holding security meetings, he needs to put the feet of his security chiefs to fire for better result. The Constitution says in Section 14 (2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” It is a shame that the security agents are not able to protect themselves, how much more the ordinary people who have no access to weapons.